Arm Exercises

Train Like Lightweight Champ Michael Chandler

This heavy hitter has won seven of his 16 fights by knockout, and stays in fighting shape year-round.

Michael Chandler Boxing In The Ring
Dave Mandel
Dave Mandel
Equipment Yes

With a 16-3 record, vicious highlight-reel KO's, and some of the most exciting fights in the history of cage fighting to his name, current Bellator Mixed Martial Arts lightweight champ “Iron” Michael Chandler is a phenom of the sport. Sadly, though, he’s overlooked, as fans increasingly turn to the more popular UFC to get their fill of brawls. Their loss.

“I’m not afraid to say that I’m the world’s best lightweight and that I’d beat Conor McGregor,” the 31-year-old fighter says.

And despite a lack of willing opponents, Chandler is currently prepping for his 20th fight. We spoke with Chandler and his strength coach, Jeff Bristol, to learn how the best MMA fighter you’ve never heard of gets—and stays—ready for war inside the cage.

The comeback kid: Chandler suffered a three-fight losing streak and his first TKO loss in 2013-14 but hasn’t lost since.

Training schedule

During his eight-week fight camp, Chandler trains twice a day, five days per week, and once on Saturdays. He works on both striking and grappling three days per week. However, Chandler is training some aspect of MMA every day. Except for Sundays—those are for recovery. Here is a breakdown of a typical eight-week camp:

Micheal Chandler Flexing His Muscles

Eight weeks out: 

“As he’s ramping back up for a fight, the first couple of weeks are all about getting his mobility and stability in place first to build his base of movement back up,” says Bristol.

Six weeks out:

The volume and intensity are ramped up with the goal of “building a good foundation of strength,” according to Bristol, who trains out of Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego. Chandler works in the 10- to 15-rep range on exercises like squats and trap bar deadlifts, and pairs them with ballistic exercises like med ball slams and box jumps to teach his body to transfer that strength to usable force. “I always promote the notion that strength plus speed equals power,” Bristol adds.

Two to four weeks out:

Depending on where his weight is, Chandler needs two to four weeks to lose 30lbs and make the 155-lb limit. Because weight cutting can leave fighters feeling fatigued and unmotivated, Bristol has Chandler ease up on lifting, sticking with lighter weights. “You hear about a lot of fighters who miss weight, or you might see a fighter giving a poor performance in the cage and know that they didn’t handle their nutrition correctly,” explains Bristol. “Mike is somebody who has always been dialed in on that aspect.”

Nutrition

“As I’ve gotten older I realize that 80% of my weight management is having good supplementation and nutrition,” says Chandler, who eats a basic diet of lean meats, veggies, and healthy fats. As for supplements, Chandler takes amino acids for muscle recovery (“Amino acids changed my life”), turmeric and ginger powders to fight inflammation, multivitamins for his general health, and protein powder to ensure that his muscles recover after his intense two-a-day workouts.

Sparring

“The worst thing you can do is put unneeded miles on yourself at the gym,” says Chandler, who, like many current fighters, is now focusing on lighter sparring to reduce the risk of prefight injury and increase shelf life. “I don’t spar with guys who are trying to take my head off. I spar hard in the sense that I have a high output. I throw a lot of punches and kicks and takedowns to keep my heart rate up.”

Signature move 

“Simplicity is the name of the game,” says Chandler about his favorite punch combination—a jab, cross. “In the fight where I knocked out Patricky ‘Pitbull’ Freire [at Bellator 157], I threw my jab often and violently so he would begin to expect it. Eventually, there was an opening for my right hand to land.”


Recovery

In addition to foam rolling before and after each practice, Chandler also receives a sports massage and visits a chiropractor weekly.

Mindset

After back-to-back losses against top lightweight Will Brooks in 2014, Chandler re-evaluated his mental approach: “Our success is driven and determined by what we put into our mind. You’re going to fail sometimes, you’re going to get knocked down, but a failure is an event, not a person. Realizing that has helped me throughout this process.” Chandler has won four fights in a row since.

Warmup

Exercise 1

Band Curl You'll need: Resistance Band How to
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3 sets
12 reps
-- rest
Superset with a lateral band walk.

Exercise 2

Ab Wheel Rollout
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3 sets
15 reps
-- rest

Exercise 3

Swiss Ball Hyperextension You'll need: Swiss Ball How to
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3 sets
10 reps
-- rest

Strength + Power

Exercise 1

Kettlebell Goblet Squat
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3 sets
12 reps
-- rest
Superset with medicine ball squat jumps.

Exercise 2

General Pullup You'll need: Pullup Bar How to
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3 sets
10-15 reps
-- rest

Exercise 3

Dumbbell Biceps Curl with Static Hold You'll need: Dumbbells How to
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3 sets
10 reps
-- rest
Perform on a keiser machine if possible.

Exercise 4

Dumbbell Step-Up You'll need: Bench, Box, Dumbbells How to
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3 sets
8 reps
-- rest

Exercise 5

Dumbbell Bench Press You'll need: Bench, Dumbbells How to
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3 sets
10 reps
-- rest
Superset with plyo pushup on bench.

Exercise 6

Triceps Pressdown You'll need: Adjustable Cable Machine, V-Handle Attachment How to
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3 sets
10 reps
-- rest
Perform with a rope handle if possible.
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